“This is the Social Security Administration!” the caller barked. “Your Social Security number is being suspended at 5 p.m. today unless we hear from you now because of financial crimes you have committed! If we don’t hear back from you, we will consider it an admission of guilt and will immediately file suit! Press 1 to speak to a Social Security representative!”
The answering machine on my phone was blinking away madly. There were six new messages this morning, in waiting. They were all scam calls. That was the first one, but could this be a harbinger of my final column? Apparently, I was in deep doo-doo. No question, since the third message was another strident, harsh communist-era sounding female voice declaring an “order to suspend your Social Security number because of illegal activity on your part! Press 1 to speak to a law officer about your arrest!” But wait, it wasn’t 5 p.m. yet — not even close. Would there be two separate officers coming to arrest me? Didn’t the right hand know what the left hand was doing? Guess I’d better pack an overnight bag, or even two. Where’s my toothbrush?
These are perilous days, indeed. Danger outside the home, danger coming through the wires and the airwaves, danger lurking in your caller ID.
It is a scammilicious time in America — the trolls are more inventive than ever, with scary and official-sounding scripts. If they sound real enough to scare folks in their 20s through 50s, imagine how scary they are to folks in their 60s through 90s. They sound so official and so final. Their aim is to get you to send cash to them through the mail — which should be the first tip-off — or your credit card and security code. No real government agency would ever ask you to send cash through the mail. In fact, the SSA uses the official U.S. mail to contact you using government documents that pass the smell test. It is easy to become confused, scared or convinced by these tele-scambags, but don’t!
I have a friend who was bamboozled by this exact ruse and sent off cash in a cardboard box to an address out west. Four figures worth of cash. He still owed three times as much to clear the supposed interest and second payment — and he had packed it all up — when he was stopped by a sibling when she saw what he was doing, literally on the steps of the post office. Hasn’t heard from them since about the second payment. They took the first payment money and ran. Scam!
The crazy thing is he wasn’t old enough to be on Social Security, by a mile, so why would they have contacted him in the first place? When my calls came in, I hadn’t yet signed up to begin Social Security (I turn 70 later this summer), so it was another tipoff. Also, couldn’t imagine what my financial crimes were?
The third clue was the caller ID for the calls. They were local Massachusetts prefixes, not a government ID readout that one sees when calling the SSA or getting a real call back from them. Speaking of caller ID, one of the six calls on my machine actually had an ID that said “Illegal Scam” on the top line and “Fraud Likely” on the line below. No actual lie.
Often, a scam call will have been localized —known also as “spoofing” — whereby the call will read as a 978-283 number but come from far away. Of course, you think it is someone you might know from Gloucester, so you pick up. If you ever return the call on your caller ID, you get a confused person on the other end in Gloucester who had no idea why people are calling them back.
And how about this one I got: “This is an apology call from your electric supplier. You have been overcharged by your supplier (notice they don’t use the name of the supplier) and can expect a refund of 30% of your past bills. Please press 1 (they’re so polite) to arrange for the wire transfer of your refund.” No they just want the “last four digits of your social” to make sure it’s you, then your bank account number, both of which they will use to flow money out of your account. You notice this variety employs just a little bit of your own greed to unlock your skepticism — free money back from a monolithic utility. If it sounds too good to be true, it is.
Or a credit card company? Very threatening, heavy male voice: “We have made several attempts to call you concerning your credit card. This is your final notice before we cancel your ability to get a lower rate on our card!” Goodness, some might think; there’s trouble with my credit card? Cancel? Better call back.
But some are more obvious tries than others. One kinda wonders when you get this call: “This is your seventh and final call for the chance to lower your credit card interest rate! Press 1 to not miss out. This is your final call!!” If only...
Don’t fall for this stuff, people. If you’re confused, ask a friend or relative what they think. New, more inventive scams are blooming each day. Ignore the calls. If it’s real, the government will let you know, but not from a phone scam boiler room. Beware telephone pickpockets. They are a scam too far.
And oh yes, if they do come and take me away at 5 PM, never mind — disregard everything above.
Gloucester resident Gordon Baird is an actor and musician, co-founder of Musician magazine and producer of “The Chicken Shack” community access TV show.